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Land Clearing Contractor Rises to Challenges

CBI 6800 Magnum Force Track Grinder Is Workhorse for P.J. Casanave Land Clearing Co.

By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 10/1/2006


SHACKLEFORDS, Virginia — It goes without saying that things change in 51 years. Philip (‘Phil’ to his friends) J. Casanave Jr., president and founder of P.J. Casanave Land Clearing Co. Inc., has moved his business forward for half a century by adjusting and fine-tuning as needed.

      “We clear land for all kinds of reasons — construction sites, golf courses,” said Phil. Other examples of the company’s work include clearing land for utility right-of-way and housing developments.

      Flexibility has kept Phil’s company strong. In providing a service that ‘bridges’ construction and forestry, his business must meet environmental regulations for both industries. No single challenge tops all others, but one of the biggest tests over the years has been regulations for burning land clearing debris.

      Finding ways to dispose of organic material cleared from sites is important, Phil noted. Of course, everything that has value is sold to various markets.

      “We salvage timber and forest products,” Phil explained. “A lot of times we contract with a logger” to fell grade timber. “Sometimes we do it.” The company used to do most of its own timber felling and harvesting, but “as it got more specialized,” Phil has subcontracted that part of the work.

      Clearing land means there are tops, stumps, logging slash, and even unusable logs that must be moved if they cannot be burned. The best thing is to convert the wood fiber into a saleable product.

      In July 2005, Phil added a Continental Biomass Industries (CBI) model 6800 T-12 Magnum Force Series horizontal feed track grinder to his company. CBI is based in Newton, N.H. A close relationship with CBI was important to Phil. “Working with the manufacturer worked for us,” he explained, noting that he believes he gets better service by working directly with the manufacturer instead of an equipment dealer.

      Phil already had CBI equipment in use when he invested in the new grinder. Two CBI stump shears have been in service for more than eight years. The stump shears, attached to an excavator, can be used to remove and split stumps. In the splitting process, the shears can be used to shake the stumps, which helps remove dirt and rocks that otherwise would go through the grinder.

      The CBI 6800 Magnum Force grinder won Phil over for several reasons. “First of all, we wanted a horizontal grinder,” he explained. The horizontal track grinder from CBI replaced a tub grinder. The horizontal intake functions safer, said Phil.

      Getting to know the CBI 6800 Magnum Force began well before Phil decided to purchase it. “How did we know it was good?” he said. “We knew about some other CBI (machines) people had.” CBI referred Phil to other customers with machines. When he contacted them to solicit opinions about the equipment, he got good reports. That was important to him.

      In just over a year, the CBI 6800 Magnum Force has seen plenty of service. “It goes to job sites and it is used in the yard,” said Phil. In addition to grinding wood on-site at jobs, the company collects wood debris at its yard — for which it receives tipping fees — and grinds it in the yard.

      The CBI 6800 Magnum Force horizontal grinder is built for tough work. In fact, the CBI 6800 is designed for land clearing contractors and other businesses that require high throughput and reliability. Continuous welding and heavy structural components make the machine rigid and durable to resist the forces encountered in the grinding process.

      In its one-year tenure at P.J. Casanave Land Clearing the CBI 6800 has proven itself. “It does what we expect it to do,” said Phil, over long periods of run time. “It works probably 50 hours a week.”

      One worker can operate the CBI, but he usually works with an assistant, said Phil. The CBI infeed conveyor normally is loaded with an excavator equipped with a grapple. The machine can be operated by remote wireless control, so the worker running the excavator can keep feeding the machine and monitor the grinder, too.

      Learning how to operate any new machine to achieve its optimum performance level takes some doing. So it was with the CBI 6800 Magnum Force, explained Phil. It required gaining familiarity with the machine’s electronics systems, he noted, but it was expected.

      “You need factory people that can help you,” said Phil. “I like the way CBI handled everything,” he added.

      The CBI 6800 Magnum Force is the exclusive grinder at Phil’s company. It grinds all wood waste except the small portion of debris that can be burned. The machine grinds a mix of hardwood and softwood stumps, limbs, logs and other woody debris. The versatility of the CBI 6800 makes it a good application to grind material of varied density and size.

      The CBI IntelliGrindTM operating system allows the 6800 Magnum Force to adjust the speed of the infeed and the position of the top feed roll to the load on the engine. The design ensures that grinding is done thoroughly, as fast as possible, yet without over-taxing the engine. The same operating system also displays real-time diagnostic information, enabling the operator to anticipate service requirements for engine oil, other fluids, and filters.

      Clearing land, especially for development projects, requires clean removal of stumps. With the two CBI stump shears, everything is manageable, said Phil. “The largest stump, we can handle it,” he said.

      The CBI stump shear rips and shears to perform all the necessary tasks associated with removing stumps. It has two ripper teeth to pull stumps out of the ground and is equipped with a steel plate to backfill the hole. The knife blade splits the stumps.

      When Phil was considering what to purchase to aid in stump removal, he decided that he liked the approach of CBI. “We thought that it was a good idea to cut the stumps up in the ground,” he said. The CBI allows P.J. Casanave Land Clearing Co. crews to do that and also to shear the stump into smaller pieces to be fed to the grinder.

      A 55,000- to 100,000-pound class excavator is required for mounting the CBI stump shear. CBI also sells Pallari stump shears, which can be mounted on 35,000- to 65,000-pound class excavators.

      The company also uses Rome KG blades mounted on a Caterpillar D-8 for removing stumps.

      P.J. Casanave strives for the best mix of equipment, explained Phil. The 25 full-time employees work 4½ or 5 days one week and six the next week. The alternating schedule enables Phil’s company to pursue jobs some distance from its base in Shacklefords, Va.

      Shacklefords is a rural community of about 2,200 people nestled among several rapidly growing communities in southeast Virginia. It is located in King and Queen County a few miles east of the town of West Point.

      P.J. Casanave Land Clearing is registered as a pre-qualified contractor in N.C., S.C., W.V. and Va. The company has completed work on some high-visibility projects, including Dulles Town Crossing in Loudoun, Va., near Washington, D.C., and the Route 288 roadway near Richmond, Va. The company stays strictly within its niche, clearing land; it does not perform grading, excavation or other side preparation work.

      Phil’s company performs most of the maintenance on its heavy equipment. Many features of the CBI 6800 Magnum Force grinder simplify maintenance. For instance, the grinder has a clamshell opening. It also features the CBI Replace-A-FaceTM hammer system, which facilitates quick, inexpensive maintenance of the hammer system.

      CBI offers many variations of grinders and optional equipment. For example, the company offers portable, stationary and track horizontal grinders. The CBI 6800 Magnum Force machine, although heavy-duty, can be transported on a standard lowboy. The model 6800 weighs just 78,000 pounds. Options available for the CBI 6800 Magnum Force include a 30-inch overband magnet that removes metal from the grindings on the off-feed conveyor.

      Phil has had his CBI stump shears mounted on different excavators over the years. Currently, one is mounted on a John Deere 270 and the other is on a Caterpillar 325.

      When P.J. Casanave Land Clearing Company needs to cut down a tree, Stihl is the chainsaw of choice.

      “Our company was located in West Virginia prior to 1989,” said Phil. Established in 1956, the company incorporated in 1977. The terrain in the Mountain State make the hills in its newer location in Virginia look relatively tame. However, many jobs require maneuvering on steep ground.

      “There’s very little ground that’s flat,” said Phil. And slope is only the beginning of the challenges they encounter. “You run into soft ground, utilities — all sorts of hazards,” he explained.

      “In the history of the company, we’ve done work from New England to Georgia.” said Phil. “It’s a very specific business” that requires travel to keep a full calendar of jobs.

      “We want to stay as close to home as we can,” he added. “In recent years, P.J. Casanave Land Clearing has been sufficiently busy to work for long stretches within the Old Dominion or bordering states.

      Boiler fuel is an important market for the company’s grindings. Another market is mulch. The company sells boiler fuel to the nearby Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. paper mill in West Point and the International Paper mill in Franklin, Va.

      The company also sells topsoil. A screen is used to separate topsoil from wood debris. It is surprising how much topsoil is mixed in with loads of wood debris, Phil said.

      “One of the things we like to do is take on different jobs and be flexible enough to make changes as things go on,” said Phil. There are always scheduling and environmental issues that must be resolved, and some arise unexpectedly after a job has begun. In addition, environmental regulations may vary from state to state. For example, some states limit the size of a tract of land that can be cleared in a given unit of time.

      “How much ground you can open up at one time…brings you to scheduling problems,” said Phil. He illustrated the complexity of scheduling conflicts with a job he decided not to bid on near Raleigh, N.C., about 100 miles away. It would have required the company to mobilize equipment to the site two separate times to clear 24 acres because regulations prohibited clearing the entire tract at one time. If the job had been closer, it would have been more economically feasible.

      Finding markets for the wood grindings is an important facet of the company’s operations. “The business has changed,” Phil noted. In the past, more lax regulations allowed companies like his to burn more of the wood debris. Now they are often limited to grinding, and they must have an outlet or market for the grindings.

      Jean Casanave, Phil’s daughter, owns a share of the business and is a vice president. She runs the office, handles purchasing and increasingly is involved in marketing.

      “I didn’t come from a logging background,” said Phil. “But when the business was slow in West Virginia, we logged.” That was many years ago.

      Phil has clear memories of his first full-time job at age 18. He worked for Asplundh Tree Expert Company for one year before starting his own business. That was in 1955, a year when portable power saws were just coming into wide use, he explained. Indeed, the earliest single-operator gas-powered chainsaw reached the market only in the early 1950s. (By 1927, the first two-man fuel-powered saws had hit the market.)

      P.J. Casanave Land Clearing Co. is a member of the Virginia Road and Transportation Builders Association. “We’re sort of a cross between the timber industry and the construction industry,” said Phil.

      Phil’s company depends on the teamwork of its entire pool of employees to achieve and maintain the Class A contractor license that it holds in both W.V. and Va. There is also some special and significant assistance. “I have a right-hand man, Scott Mayberry,” said Phil. “A vice president, he’s been with me over 20 years.”

      Phil, who is in his 70s, does not seem to tire of working. “I like to be in a business that’s not abstract, that you can actually see what you’re doing,” he said. “I like the equipment aspect. I like being outdoors.”

      A guitar player and a lover of bluegrass music, Phil enjoys his free time. He has a boat and fishes in saltwater. He also enjoys watching pro football, especially when Pittsburgh is playing. “I’m a huge Steelers fan,” he said.


 






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